The U.S. Department of Justice is building a set of databases and database interconnections which will allow state and law enforcement agencies to search not only federal law enforcement agencies’ case files, but also other state and local agencies’ data.
It’s rare that I get to say a major news outlet screwed up a news story, so I’ll say it now. A major news outlet omitted several key details on the nature and extent of OneDOJ, the department’s new information sharing initative.
So here are the details.
On December 21, deputy attorney general Paul J. McNulty sent a memo (PDF) to federal law enforcement agency heads detailing DOJ’s Law Enforcement Information Sharing Program and directing the agencies to participate in the program.
“A guiding principle of the LEISP strategy is the concept of OneDOJ,” McNulty wrote in the memo. “OneDOJ embodies the Department’s commitment to presenting a single face to our information-sharing partners by enabling components’ information to be presented in a uniform and consistent manner through the use of common tools, systems, and other sharing mechanisms.”
LEISP is an umbrella for several information sharing initiatives which use common protocols and data formats, such as Global Justice XML and its successor, the National Information Exchange Model, to share information between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Agencies which use different data formats in their own databases can share data using the common formats.
OneDOJ is intended to “provide our partners with one point of entry for DOJ law enforcement information,” using the standard formats and through a single portal, according to a briefing document (PowerPoint) obtained by Homeland Stupidity.
The two major information sharing initiatives being implemented now are the Regional Data Exchange (R-DEx) and the National Data Exchange (N-DEx), both of which share different information in different ways.
R-DEx “allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies,” exactly as the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. For reasons unknown, the Post seems to refer to R-DEx as OneDOJ.
R-DEx can integrate into existing local and regional law enforcement information sharing systems.
“In August 2005, for example, the Department launched an information-sharing pilot program with the Northwest Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX) in Seattle, Washington,” according to McNulty’s memo. “Approximately seven months later, in March 2006, the Department entered into a partnership with the Automated Regional Justice Information Sharing (ARJIS) system in San Diego, California. In addition, the FBI has used the Regional Data Exchange system (R-DEx) to facilitate information sharing in Jacksonville, Florida, and St. Louis, Missouri.”
R-DEx provides these regional information sharing systems with access to “investigative reports and witness interviews from both open and closed cases; criminal event data (e.g., characteristics of criminal activities and incidents that identify links or patterns); criminal history information (e.g., history of arrests, nature and disposition of criminal charges, sentencing, confinement, and release); and identifying information about criminal offenders (e.g., name, address, date of birth, birthplace, physical description)” provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the United States Marshals Service, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to the privacy impact statement for the database.
R-DEx provides link analysis and geo-mapping capabilities, so a police officer in Los Angeles can search the database to find out if a suspect is associated with any known criminals across the country, or if a federal agency is investigating the individual or his associates.
The National Data Exchange, or N-DEx, is a separate database, planned to be implemented over the next three years, which will provide local and state law enforcement access to each other’s data. N-DEx will contain incident/case reports, arrest, booking and incarceration data, and parole/probation data contributed by DOJ and participating law enforcement agencies. N-DEx will also be able to retrieve data from R-DEx as well as from existing law enforcement databases such as the National Crime Information Center and the Interstate Identification Index, according to a program briefing document (PowerPoint).
“Ideally, N-DEx would obtain its data from the 50 States’ repositories, however, this model is not occurring nationwide and as such, N-DEx must be able to obtain its data through a variety of options as permitted by policy,” notes on another briefing document (PowerPoint) state. N-DEx, currently being tested in California and Delaware, will rely on data contributed by state and local law enforcement agencies, so available information may be inconsistent from state to state, depending on states’ privacy requirements.
Unlike R-DEx, DOJ has not yet published a privacy impact assessment or a Privacy Act notice for N-DEx, which it says will go live with limited functionality next year.
And now you know much more about these new law enforcement databases than newspaper readers.
“The goal is that all of U.S. law enforcement will be able to look at each other’s records to solve cases and protect U.S. citizens,” McNulty said. “With OneDOJ, we will essentially hook them up to a pipe that will take them into its records.”
McNulty and other Justice officials emphasize that the information available in the database already is held individually by the FBI and other federal agencies. Much information will be kept out of the system, including data about public corruption cases, classified or sensitive topics, confidential informants, administrative cases and civil rights probes involving allegations of wrongdoing by police, officials said. . . .
Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the main problem is one of “garbage in, garbage out,” because case files frequently include erroneous or unproved allegations.
“Raw police files or FBI reports can never be verified and can never be corrected,” Steinhardt said. “That is a problem with even more formal and controlled systems. The idea that they’re creating another whole system that is going to be full of inaccurate information is just chilling.” — Washington Post
The Privacy Act notice (and modification) for R-DEx says that people listed in the database may access and contest non-exempt records in the database; however, most law enforcement records are exempt from disclosure requirements and contesting record procedures.